Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus can be traced back to the 12th and 13th centuries in the Catholic Church. Inspired by more than 500 years of tradition, this devotion became part of the Church’s liturgy in 1670, with Mass and prayers composed by French priest St. John Eudes (1601-1680). 

Three years later, the Lord Jesus appeared multiple times to a 26-year-old French nun of the Visitation Order, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (1647-1690), revealing the love and mercy for which the popular image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus has become a universal symbol. Pope Pius IX placed the feast in honor of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar in 1856, 19 days after Pentecost. This year it is celebrated on Friday, June 24.

In 2002, Pope St. John Paul II declared the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus as an annual occasion for the Universal Church to pray for the Sanctification of Priests. The joining of these two events is easy to understand and appreciate, especially when one recalls the words of St. John Vianney, patron of priests: “The priest is not a priest for himself ... he is for you. The priesthood is the love of the heart of Jesus.” 

As Bishop, I have witnessed something in the Diocese of Trenton, especially during these years of pandemic, that I have seen repeated so many times over the past 12 years: the constant love and care of our priests for their parishioners and others entrusted to their care in schools, chaplaincies, organizations and offices.

With ongoing efforts to pray for, reach out to and keep in touch with the faithful; to minister to them in the face of many challenges; to speak mercifully the words of absolution;  to visit hospitals and nursing homes to anoint the sick and bring Holy Communion; to comfort grieving families at times of loss; to conduct meetings and classes — in these and so many hidden ways, the diocesan and religious priests in our parishes and other ministries use every means at their disposal to keep the Catholic faith alive and flourishing in the lived experiences of the faithful. 

The Sacred Heart of Jesus can be heard beating everywhere throughout the four counties of the Diocese of Trenton, reminding us all that through the presence of good, holy, faithful priests, “nothing can separate us from the love of Christ that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (Romans 8:39). 

The Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus speaks profoundly of his endless mercy, despite the punctures and wounds of human sin and ingratitude revealed in its imagery. Speaking to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque during her visions, the Lord Jesus asked her to invite all who behold his Sacred Heart to immerse themselves in the embrace of his Divine Love and Forgiveness. That message is not obscured in the ministry of his priests who – despite the horrible scandals of some abusive priests who have pierced his heart deeply in recent decades – beg for the daily sanctification of their priestly lives so that they, in turn, can lead the faithful entrusted to their care to sanctification. 

St. John Vianney once reflected, “A priest goes to heaven, or a priest goes to hell, with a thousand people behind.” On this Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we must adore him anew as we pray fervently for the sanctification of priests in our day so that they will continue to lead the many “thousands,” indeed millions, to heaven through the holiness to which Christ has called them, and us all, in his Church. May the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the heart of every priest beat as one.